Michihiro Omigawa: The Fall and Rise
Article by Daniel Fletcher, video by Stuart "Hello Japan" Jones
No Cat No Life.
Not something many forum posters would expect to hear from me, but Ce la vie. It’s the famous tag line attributed to one of Japan’s and the world’s premier featherweights, Michihiro Omigawa.
On paper, Omigawa enjoyed perhaps the biggest reversal in fortunes ever seen in Mixed Martial Arts – barring Ken Shamrock whose port to starboard was in the opposite direction. Known for being an inconsistent lightweight in the UFC, Omigawa initially competed in America, earning a 4 wins, 7 losses ledger. Hardly the statistics of a champion. Omigawa duly slunk home in obscurity, and signed for World Victory Road’s rising org Sengoku as a featherweight. And under the glare of the Rising Sun, his stock rose with meteoric force, as an 8 wins 1 loss resume launched him into the consensus top 3 world rankings, at least of those media outlets uninterested in pandering to Zuffa LLC.
I did say ‘on paper’. My intense bias must shine forth momentarily, so indulge me. Omigawa’s famous 8-1 streak at featherweight is tarnished with the nature of the two biggest wins in it; the Sengoku Featherweight Grand Prix semi-final against Marlon Sandro, and the subsequent bout with Shooto king Hatsu Hioki. These two men make up two of my personal top three 145lbs fighters, along with Sandro’s teammate and sparring partner Jose Aldo Jr. While the semi-final was admittedly close (though I feel 60-40 is an accurate ratio in favour of Sandro) the Hioki fight was a consensus robbery. Perhaps the best grappler in the sport, Hioki also boasts a very competent stand-up game, with good kicks and dextrous boxing. He used all to comfortably outpoint Omigawa, only to be screwed over in a way J-MMA usually reserves for foreigners. I’m surprised Hioki didn’t get out his passport and wave it in the faces of the judges. “I’m ••••ing Japanese, kids. Give me my win!”
But regardless, there can be no denying that Omigawa is one of the most improved fighters of all time. After the Sandro fight, he drew Masanori Kanehara in the final, and dropped a split-decision – his only official loss in his featherweight rise up the ranks. He ended the Sandro fight with a submission attempt and some Ground’n’Pound, and either evaded or rode the heavy punches of the Brazilian. His Grand Prix final opponent wilted and was knocked unconscious by the same hands, 38seconds into his title defence against Sandro following the tournament. Omigawa used his boxing savvy to slip and evade the monstrous blows, and returned fire, landing often. After defecting from World Victory Road to Dream, he beat Hiroyuki Takaya in a battle of Featherweight Grand Prix finalists – a win that looks more impressive now given that Takaya rebounded with wins over Hellboy Hansen and then Bibiano Fernandez to claim the Dream title. Omigawa iced him. Close fights with Sandro and Hioki, and an otherwise 6-1 resume at 145lbs including a stoppage win over Takaya cannot be ignored. Omigawa is elite. He consistently displays strong boxing and an iron chin, to go along with his judo base and athleticism.
Omigawa fought in Dream, but despite beating the current Dream champion Hiroyuki Takaya via knockout, he never seemed to find his niche. He spent the run up to Dynamite calling out Lightweight champ Shinya Aoki, and was ostensibly frustrated with his handling by FEG. He was snapped up by the UFC, and while wrestler Chad Mendes managed to mete out a losing return to America for the Judoka, Omigawa showed his durability and doggedness, recovering from a second round knockdown to survive the fight. His judo base enabled him to throw off some of the takedown attempts, but he succumbed to enough of them to lose a handsome points decision. No ties to Yoshida could help him there.
I had said all along it was Japanophilic fantasy to rank Omigawa as the #2 or #3 featherweight in the world, at the expense of Sandro and Hioki. Paper wins over the pair disguise very thinly that the champions of Pancrase, and Sengoku and Shooto respectively, are the crème de la crème of Japan. But he is without question one of the very best, no doubt heading that category just behind the elite three, along with his conqueror Mendes, his former victim Takaya the Dream titlist, Bibiano Fernandez and perhaps Manny Gamburyan and Mike Thomas Brown. No doubt Miyata is rising through the ranks too, and Diego Nunes is hot on the heels of the elite.
One thing is for sure – the featherweight division is STACKED, both in world MMA and especially in Japan… and Omigawa is a very interesting component of the top end of the division. On his day, the FWGP finalist will cause anyone problems, and one hopes for rematches with Hioki and Sandro, not to mention a potential dream fight with Aldo while the pair ply their trade in America.
Look for Omigawa to become a solid addition to the USMMA featherweight scene, once he finds his feet across the